How wide is NASA

Number of the month February: 48 kilometers

48 kilometers: This is how wide the Mars crater "Jezero" is, in which the NASA rover landed in February with the support of Berlin researchers. The crater is thus roughly the size of Berlin itself.

On February 18, 2021 at 21:55 (CET) the time had come: after 202 days in space, the NASA rover “Perseverance” landed on Mars. The spectacular landing, which people all over the world watched with excitement, was also made possible by expertise from Berlin. Geologists and planetary researchers from the Free University of Berlin in Lankwitz and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Adlershof helped prepare NASA's high-precision landing maneuver in the Jezero crater with their image and terrain data from the red planet. And the Berlin researchers are still involved in the Mars mission. In the coming years they will evaluate the recordings from two rover camera systems, which should provide new information about our neighboring planet. Berlin's science is really omnipresent - and enables us all to take a virtual walk on Mars!

Objectives of the Mars mission

Was there life on Mars long ago? How was the climate? And what is the geology of Mars like? With the help of high-resolution images, sound recordings and rock samples, scientists hope to find answers to these questions. The US space agency NASA has sent the new rover called "Perseverance" (perseverance) to Mars.

Successful landing maneuver on Mars thanks to the map material from Berlin research

The rover landed precisely in the over 3.5 billion year old Jezero crater, which contains a well-preserved river delta, which indicates that there must have been stagnant water here. With a diameter of approx. 48 km, the crater is about the size of Berlin. Scientists from Berlin were also involved in the precisely calculated rover landing by providing NASA with image and terrain data.

The comparison of these camera data, recorded by the Mars Express probe, with recordings from other Mars cameras enabled a more precise assessment of the landing site during the landing. The space probe Mars-Express of the European Space Agency ESA has been orbiting Mars since December 2003 and with the help of images from the “High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC)” is still delivering important image data, pixel-perfect and even in color. The researchers at the Free University of Berlin combine these image data to create a global map of Mars. And NASA also uses these maps from Berlin.

In addition, an interactive map of the Jezero crater and its surroundings was created especially to illustrate the landing site and the rover recordings from orbit images, terrain data and panoramic images, which can be accessed here. There are plans to update the map with new footage of the rover.

One of the first recordings of the rover Perseverance on Mars.
Image: Mars 2020 / Mastcam-Z / PIA24264, NASA / JPL / ASU / MSSS

Researchers from Lankwitz and Adlershof are evaluating the data from the rover cameras

At 1,000 kilograms, the Rover Perseverance is about the size and weight of a small car and equipped with a multitude of technical devices such as cameras, microphones and even a mini helicopter - a total of 19 recording systems. A working group from Freie Universität Berlin and DLR will be involved in the evaluation of the data from the “Mastcam-Z” stereo camera on Perseverance and the SuperCam spectrometer over the next few years.

The Mastcam-Z camera system is mounted on the rover on an approximately 2 meter high mast and can zoom, focus and record 3D images and videos at high speed in order to capture distant objects in detail. The SuperCam on the Perseverance rover uses a camera, laser, and spectrometer to examine rocks and soil to identify organic compounds that may be related to past life on Mars.

With a little luck, researchers will be able to determine more precisely in a few years whether there are actually indications of earlier simple life forms in the Jezero crater, when the collected samples can reach the earth again in one of the follow-up missions and can be examined. Much remains to be discovered on this extraordinary Mars mission.